Red Ed Is Well Fed I Said
Ed Sheeran released a new album this week. If that fact is news to you, may I say just how flattered I am to be the first thing you've decided to read following your time in a coma. Just wait until you see who the new Prime Minister is.
No matter how lukewarm its reception from some reviewing quarters, Sheeran's No.6 Collaborations Project is inevitably the biggest album of the week and naturally enough the fastest-selling of the year. According to the Official Charts Company's stats, the album clocked up a massive 125,000 chart sales - more even than 2019's previous fastest sales champ Lewis Capaldi who "only" managed 89,500 back in May. It is the first album to break six figures in a single week since Take That's Odyssey sold 106,000 copies in its first week on sale in November last year and the highest single-week total achieved by any album since Eminem's Revival notched up 132,000 chart sales in December 2017. You will possibly see some attempting to draw unfavourable comparisons with the 671,542 sales that Sheeran's previous album Divide managed in its first week in March that same year, suffice it to say that even two and a half years is enough of a gap for the market to have shifted dramatically. We are judging Ed on what he does compared to those around him, not what he achieved in the past.
The breakdown of the album's sales is fascinating. A whopping 57,000 of them came from physical sales, a third of those I'm told were over the supermarket checkout. He also managed 18,000 downloads and 70.2m individual track streams - and it is that latter total which should clue you in as to why the over half a million sales of previous albums are indeed a thing of the past. But he gets another official award to add to his collection, and in truth that is all that matters here.
Those colossal streams are the very thing which could have seen a repeat of the extraordinary singles chart domination Sheeran managed in March 2017, when his songs occupied all but one of the Top 10. The subsequent chart rule restricting chart hits to three per artist is informally dubbed the "Ed Sheeran rule", so it should probably come as no surprise to see the man himself crash headlong into it in a manner no other artist to date has managed. Tracks from No.6 Collaborations Project are at 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 15, 18, 22, 24, 26, 29, 32 and 35 on the unfiltered streaming chart, suggesting that he would almost certainly have knackered up the Official Singles Chart in a similar manner to before had he been permitted. Had the 2017 rules been in effect then Ed would have enjoyed eight of the week's Top 10 singles. In the event, just three of the album's cuts appear on the main chart - and every single one of them is in the Top 5.
Inevitably one of them is Number One. It may not entirely be a coincidence that this so happens to be the first cut on the album and so the one that everyone managed to listen to at least once even when sampling. Beautiful People has already spent a fortnight on the singles chart, both of those at Number 3. It now climbs two places to give Ed Sheeran a seventh Number One single, and of course it was only the sneaky week grabbed by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello last week which prevented him from succeeding himself at the top of the charts for the second time in his career. Guest star on Beautiful People is Khalid who thus enjoys his own second Number One hit single, just under a year since his last spell at the top of the charts as one of the featured singers on Benny Blanco's Eastside. With the track now a Number One single rather than just a teaser album cut it seems only right to evaluate it on its own merits, and on those terms, it ranks as one of Ed's better Number One hits. Certainly, I'm preferring it to I Don't Care, although that may possibly be a case of familiarity breeding contempt.
The second eligible Ed hit is Take Me Back To London which sees the performer team up officially for the first time with his good mate Stormzy. The rapper has had a long association with Sheeran, dating back to his appearance on a remix of Shape Of You, but this is the first time the two men have had a direct co-credit on a chart single. The album cut managed the trick of hopping both genres and fanbases and charts at Number 3 to become Ed Sheeran's landmark 40th Top 40 single. Completing the trio of hits is eight weeks old Cross Me which rebounds to its to date chart peak of Number 4, a position it last scaled three weeks ago.
You will note that there is no room for the former Number One single I Don't Care. It is still the second most-streamed track of the week, but the value of those streams now count for half as the single pays the price for its three weeks of decline and crashes onto ACR. With so many other Ed hits all competing for chart places, it simply never stood a chance of retaining its place as one of the three biggest and so is officially "starred out" and disqualified from the listings. That does mean I Don't Care can for now boast one of the most extraordinary chart runs in modern-day history - eight weeks at the top, one more at Number 2 and then exiting. The big twist is that the track is massively unlucky to have ended up on ACR right at this moment. On the chart of June 27 it enjoyed 57,689 streaming sales and on July 7 clocked up 57,618. That's a difference of just 71 chart sales - or to put it another way, just 7100 paid Spotify plays. But for that drop, it would still have been on SCR and by some rough calculations may well be back at Number One this week. So those 7100 plays a few weeks ago turned out to be the difference between topping the chart and not featuring on it at all.
The only other Number One single of modern times to suffer an enforced chart removal while still a Top 10 hit was Crazy by Gnarls Barkley. Back in 2006, it fell foul of the then rule which disqualified downloaded singles from the chart two weeks after their physical counterpart had been withdrawn from sale. Following its nine-week run at the top, it dipped 1-2-5 and then exited the chart, only to return exactly 30 weeks later in January 2007 when the full switch to the digital era began and downloaded singles were free to chart without having to be tied to a physical release. I don't think I'm going out on too much of a limb in expecting I Don't Care to reappear in fairly short order once the flurry of interest in Sheeran album cuts dies away. This is a mere glitch in the Matrix rather than a permanent farewell to the long-running hit single.
Stuff That Is Not Ginger
Still, this frees up the Top 10 for other performers and it is to the benefit of AJ Tracey whose Ladbroke Grove smash continues its graceful ascent. The single vaults 12-6 to overtake Fashion Week as the rapper's biggest chart hit to date. Despite the dune buggies and camels theme of the video, Ladbroke Grove joins Take Me Back To London and Young Thug's The London as one of three current Top 40 hits to use the capital city as a theme.
Also new to the Top 10 is Mist's So High which climbs 11-7 after just missing out when it debuted last week. Old Town Road from Lil Nas X clings on doggedly at Number 10, making this the fifth week it has been in the Top 10 despite being an ACR single. The record is held by Luis Fonsi's Despacito which lingered at the top end of the chart for seven weeks even after having its streams downgraded.
Rules And Regulations
The rules governing the singles chart are in a constant state of evolution, a necessity of adapting to the similarly fast-paced evolution of the streaming market and as the industry learns just how best to track online plays as a measure of popularity. The new July 2019 chart rules appeared last week with little pre-fanfare, containing nothing as revolutionary as the ACR rule of 2017 and the addition of YouTube streams in 2018. But there was one subtle change which may well have a far-reaching impact in weeks to come.
As originally codified, it was possible for an ACR relegated single to have its streaming conversion reset, simply by dint of its streams increasing by more than 50% of the market. This rule was originally designed to make it possible for tracks enjoying spontaneous surges of interest to take their place on the charts, but this was rendered more or less obsolete by a subsequent tweak which made this only applicable to tracks less than three years from release. It had become clear that the bar for a reset was simply too high. So the Official Charts Company last week lowered it by half, meaning it now only takes a 25% + market increase in streams for a single to jump out of the relegation zone.
So we may well be about to see chart jumps similar to that experienced this week by Dave with Location. Originally a cut from the rapper's Psychodrama album, the track has already enjoyed an extended chart run, peaking at Number 6 back in April during what turned out to be a six week run inside the Top 10. Five weeks ago that run began to draw to a close, the single dropping 12-36 following an ACR relegation, since when it has hovered around the bottom end of the Top 40. As if out of nowhere, however, this week the track is back. Location rockets 38-13 to effectively rebound to exactly where it was before ACR kicked in. All this in the same week the track finally gained an official video to make it "officially" a single release. As to what qualified it for the reset, I confess I'm not entirely sure. It seems unlikely to have been at the request of the label, by rule such "manual resets" are still only permitted for tracks outside the Top 100. Yet without being able to see the numbers, I cannot discern any surge on last week's streaming chart that would have theoretically qualified Location for the 25% rule. So for the moment, we are into the realms of guesswork here.
Also currently on ACR but perhaps not for too much longer is Bad Guy from Billie Eilish. The former Number 2 hit was down and out and sinking fast but this week turns around with a 23-16 climb. This is all thanks to a new mix of the track which adds in a vocal from the teenager's childhood idol Justin Bieber and puts an entirely new spin on the song, given that he gets to take over as the bad guy in question. For the first time in 27 years, I'm in a position where not being able to see the full numbers gets in the way of a complete analysis, so I cannot say for sure if the surge the single enjoyed this week has pushed it over the 25% threshold for an ACR reset. But if it jumps again next time around we will know the reason why. [Edit: based on the Sunday evening "first look" which has it back in the Top 10 it does indeed appear that the reset has taken place].
Still climbing, for directly legitimate reasons is Kygo's remix of Whitney Houston's Higher Love which rises 26-17. It is the second most-purchased track of the week, indicating just which demographic it appeals to the most, but its streams are on the rise too and will hopefully climb still further in the weeks to come.
Krept In Without Us Noticing
One place below is the second-highest new entry of the week. In at Number 18 is I Spy which gives Krept & Konan their first Top 40 hit single since Ask Flipz reached Number 30 in November 2017. The London-based pair have had a long wait for a chart single of this size, having never truly followed up the Number 9 success of their debut release Freak Of The Week which charted in July 2015.
No More Poison Killing My Emotion
Her eagerly-anticipated debut album hit the streams this week, so it seems only appropriate to note a further rise for Freya Ridings' Castles which rises 34-26.
Love Of My Life was once the title of a famous Queen song, but this week it also becomes the subject of the first-ever hit single for producer Remedee. The Number 37 new entry features a cast of hundreds supplying the vocals - or at the very least Not3s and Young Adz who is better known as one-half of the leading lights in D-Block Europe.
Other Stuff Of Note
Coming under the heading of "other stuff of note" is the sudden surge of interest in the music of A Star Is Born, prompted it seems by the airing of the movie on satellite television. The movie's soundtrack album rockets 25-5 on the long-player chart, whilst the former Number One single Shallow also seems to have gained some renewed momentum and soars 73-48 on the singles chart, the closest it has been to the Top 40 since it exited (seemingly for good) at the start of May. Why is this worthy of note? Because again, you cannot rule out the possibility that this was enough to earn the single an ACR reset. The bar is so much lower now.
If I Lay Here
Finally, it isn't actually on the Top 100 itself but people will still be wondering just where it is. A survey announced by music licensing body PPL midweek revealed that the most-played track on British radio of the 21st century is Snow Patrol's 2006 single Chasing Cars. That was enough to spark a surge of interest in the track and sending it flying to the top of the iTunes live tables. As I noted online, that's meaningless in the grand scheme of things given you can top the iTunes table with a few hundred copies in a quiet week. But it was enough to ensure the veteran single is Number 21 on the old-school sales chart this week - even if its run of fame at the very end of the survey period and precious few streams means it never stood a chance on making the singles chart for real. Chasing Cars peaked at Number 6 in September 2006, has spent 111 weeks in the Top 75 and 166 in the Top 100 to make it one of the most charted singles of all time. It would almost certainly have had more, but it too briefly fell foul of the 2006 physical deletion rule and was removed from the chart in November that year, reappearing six weeks later when the new chart rules kicked in. Its last official chart appearance came almost five years ago in October 2014 when a two-week spell on the chart saw the single reach Number 91.
Thanks for taking the time to read this week's Chart Watch column. If you enjoyed it, and the over 1,000 other articles on the site then you might want to consider helping with its upkeep with a donation. I'll never plaster this site with adverts or put up a paywall. Show your thanks in your own way, either through a one-off donation or a more regular form of support. Every bit helps to make Chart Watch UK even better than it already is.